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Muslims attacked in Rudraprayag: Hindutva outfits are using rumours to polarise Uttarakhand

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 7 April 2018, 19:17 IST
Shops belonging to Muslims being attacked in Agastyamuni

Polarisation, either on communal or caste lines, is only increasing in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The common perception is that with the BJP having failed to deliver either at the Centre or in the states where it came to power riding the 'Modi wave', it is now the right wing Hindutva organisations that have taken over to execute the agenda of polarisation.

The latest in the series is the targeting of the hill state of Uttarakhand with its negligible Muslim population in the hill districts. The misuse of social media continues to play a role in this menace.

The recent burning down of 15 shops owned by Muslims in Agastyamuni town of Rudraprayag district of Garhwal following rumours spread on social media, is just one among the many attempts that have taken place in the last one year and majority of them have gone unreported on the national level.

Reports say that the members of the right wing groups including those allegedly belonging to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which is the student wing of the RSS. Apparently, the outfit took out a procession and targeted Muslim shopkeepers following false rumors that a Muslim youth had raped a minor girl. The protestors raised anti-Muslim slogans and burnt the shops in anger against the rape that never took place.

Rudraprayag District Magistrate Mangesh Ghildyal reportedly said a blurred photo of a man and a girl were posted on social media with a caption that a youth of one community had raped a minor girl from the other community. He said that the police is looking for the person who had started the rumour.

Sources point out that this is not just a one off incident. Right-wing groups have become active across the state since the BJP came to power in the state targeting Muslims and stoking the communal fire.

“It is all being done in a planned manner. Even this Agastyamuni incident could have been averted if the administration took preventive action. In the hills the strategy of the trouble makers is to target mofussil towns where minority population might be insignificant. This helps create an atmosphere of distrust and helps them take their politics forward,” points out activist Indresh Maikhuri who is affiliated with the CPI (ML) and has been working in the hills of Garhwal for several years.

In the last one year there have been more than half a dozen incidents where Muslims have been targeted in a way so as to malign them.

“In their attempts to polarise the majority Hindu community, the criminal acts of members of Muslim community have either been manufactured or blown out of proportion. The entire community is being demonized and targeted,” points out a senior political observer based in Dehradun.

He substantiates this with the incidents at Pauri and Kotdwar towns on October 2 and 3 respectively last year. In Pauri town, a Bihari labourer was nabbed for allegedly raping a minor Nepali girl. The right-wing groups went on to organise a massive protest seeking a ban on the entry of ‘outsiders’. In Kotdwar town, a Muslim barber was caught and thrashed by the mob on similar charges while airing the same demand again.

Earlier on September 11, seven Muslim youths were charged with teasing girls and jailed in Chamba town of Tehri Garhwal district while a Hindu right wing group indulged in enforcing closure of the Chamba market creating tension.

Before this on September 8, two Muslim boys from Kirtinagar town in Tehri Garhwal were caught 'roaming' with two girls from the majority community in Dehradun by the police. The police was prompt in reporting the matter to Kirtinagar where members of the right wing groups vandalised the shops belonging to the families of the Muslim boys. The boys were promptly sent to jail.

Still before that in July last year Hindutva groups attacked Muslim shops in Satpuli town of Pauri Garhwal district after a social media post allegedly by a Muslim boy that showed Kedarnath shrine in a poor light under the slogan ‘not in my name’. Another episode that had led to ruckus by the right wing in the town against Muslims was a allegation that a Muslim had unnatural sex with a cow in Satpuli.

Then of course was the episode of the targeting of Kashmiri traders in Mussourie in July last year when they were given an ultimatum to pack up and leave the hill station by March 2018. The grounds were alleged raising of pro-Pakistan slogans after an India Pakistan Champions Trophy cricket match. It later transpired that the Kashmiri traders who have been trading in the town for decades had nothing to do with the slogans and two teenagers from the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh were booked in the matter.

This was followed by another allegation of a Kashmiri trader posting a video praising Pakistani Army that he denied. His mobile phone was eventually sent for forensic analysis. The Hindus groups did not allow this trader to open the his shop for several days.

But the most interesting episode that largely went unreported in the national media was the attacking and ransacking of shops and houses belonging to the Muslims right from Raiwala to Kankhal in Haridwar in October. These attacks had continued for several days in which the Muslims were left terrorised.

The violence started at Raiwala that is located on the national highway between Haridwar and Rishikesh following the murder of one Laxman Singh whose body was found on the railway tracks. Investigations reportedly revealed that he was killed by Islam and his son Salman who had dumped he body on the railway tracks. Laxman Singh, a father of three children was allegedly having an affair with Islam's daughter. The family after warning Laxman Singh and engaged their daughter somewhere else. But Laxman Singh had gone to their house in an inebriated state and had picked up a fight following which he was killed by the accused who were later arrested and sent to jail.

This had proved to be a perfect excuse for the Hindu fringe elements to indulge in mayhem and target the entire Muslim community. A dozen shops and houses of Muslims were attacked and ransacked on October 5 at Raiwala while they ran to safety, some of them fleeing with their families in the middle of the night.

The next day shops and kiosks of Muslims were ransacked looted and burnt with impunity in Rishikesh as the police watched as mute spectators. Sources say that a cloth shop along with fruit and vegetable shops owned by Muslims were torched. The violence gradually spread to Haridwar where a group of youngsters on two wheelers armed with sharp edged weapons, hockey sticks and baseball bats attacked shops of Muslims in Kankhal area where they also thrashed Muslim vendors. There were some arrests made in these cases later.

“Majority of the Muslims in Uttarakhand, particularly those in the hill districts, are migrants from neighbouring districts of Uttar Pradesh like Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Moradabad, Rampur and Bareilly. They are into small time vocations like hair cutting, butchers and meat sellers, vegetable and fruit vendors etc. Being poor they are helpless,” pointed the observer.

The lack of political leadership among the Muslims makes the things even worse since the poor lot is also unaware of things and large illiterate.

“The miniscule population of minorities in the hills make them a soft target and this is the actual design of the Hindutva groups to target soft target and keep the communal pot simmering,” says Maikhuri.

Till now Uttarakhand was seen as a largely peaceful state. The planned infiltration of fringe elements in the hills and subsequent unleashing of the violence has left the minorities terrorised and confused.

First published: 7 April 2018, 19:17 IST